Poems and Stories

The Good Book

'The Good Book', a film by Anton French and Rosie Escott, was premiered on a pedal-powered cinema at the Wise Words festival in Canterbury on Friday 13 September 2013. The film is about the opening of the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, and features poems about the physical book, some of which won the Wise Words poetry competition.

My poem, 'Preparation for Reading' is the second poem read in the film, about five minutes in. Canterbury poet Mary-Anne Smith also has a poem in the film. Both of us wrote our poems rather quickly as the competition deadline was approaching - nothing like a deadline to get the work done.

Poems featured are by Heathcote Williams, Ann Drysdale, Mary Anne Smith, Anna Bolton, Maria C. McCarthy and Helen Kay.

You can watch 'The Good Book' here https://vimeo.com/73997765

The film also features on the Just About Right Productions website, where there is a link to the written poems. Click here

posted 16 September 2013


'How Beautiful'

Read my dark satire inspired by welfare reform on the Writers' Hub website: 'How Beautiful'.
 
posted 24 June 2013


'Death of a Poet' and 'Ladies Changing'

These two poems appear in the Spring 2013 issue of the e-zine Message in a Bottle. Click here to read. 
 
posted 25 March 2013


'Travellers Welcome' and an interview with Maria C. McCarthy

The poem 'Travellers Welcome' and the interview with Maria C. McCarthy by John Mackay appear in Issue 14, the final issue of the magazine. This is reproduced with the kind permission of 14 Magazine. Read it by clicking Here.
 
posted 28 January 2013


'Bless This House', 'Blithe Spirits' and 'Travellers Welcome'

My poem 'Bless This House' can be read on the Ink, Sweat and Tears website by clicking here; it was posted on 8 December 2012, so do scroll down the page to read it, stopping to read other poems on the way. 
 
My poem 'Blithe Spirits' can be read on the Cultured Llama website by clicking here.
 
My poem 'Travellers Welcome' can be read in Issue 14, the final issue of 14 Magazine, along with an interview with John Mackay on how I came to write the poem. Buy 14 Magazine by clicking here.
 
posted 11 December 2012


Poetry, music and gumboot dancing on You Tube

There are some clips from the 'From Page to Stage' event held at the Avenue Theatre, Sittingbourne on the new Cultured Llama You Tube channel. These feature poetry readings, music and gumboot dancing. The evening was to launch my poetry collection 'strange fruits' and to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. £225 was raised that evening alone, and the fundraising total now stands at £603. Thanks to everyone who took part in the evening, giving their time and talents for free. More videos from the evening will go up in the next week, so do go back and look again. You can link to the clips here.

posted 17 November 2011


Poems from 'strange fruits' - read by Maria C. McCarthy

The first video from the launch of 'strange fruits' - From Page to Stage at the Avenue Theatre, Sittingbourne - is now on You Tube. This clip is my first reading on the evening, with three poems: "Strange Fruits"; "The Brickbat Wall" and "Missed you on the Day it Rained". Watch it here
 
posted 14 November 2011


As Long as it Takes

The title story of my collection 'As Long As it Takes' is now on the Writers' Hub website. Read it here
 
posted 1 November 2011


Flowerpot

I'm posting this in honour of Record Store Day. It's a prose poem I wrote a few years ago. I showed it to the brother mentioned in the poem, and he told me that the record was 'Hole in my shoe' by Traffic. Oh well, my memory is not always accurate; but the song in the poem works better. Call it poetic licence. Here it is: Flowerpot.

posted 16 April 2011


From Norah to Noreen

Writers' Hub have published a companion piece to my story 'More Katharine than Audrey'. It's about how I came to write the story, and my writing process once the idea took root. The piece is called 'From Norah to Noreen - on writing More Katharine than Audrey'. There is a link to the story to the right of the page on the Writers' Hub site. I recommend you read the story first, so as not to spoil the ending.

posted 24 March 2011


More Katharine than Audrey

My story 'More Katharine than Audrey' is now available to read on the Writers' Hub website. I am so excited about this, as my work is alongside Polly Sansom, Alan Beard and several other published authors that I admire. The story started with a news story a couple of years ago, plus a family story told to me by my father's cousin in Ireland. But I won't spoil it for you. Read it at this link and if you are on Facebook, please click the 'Like' link and post it your Facebook wall.

posted 7 February 2011


At the Shrine of St Jude, Faversham

This poem was highly commended in the Save As Poetry Awards 2010. My visit to the shrine was inspired by it featuring in The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas. It brought up all sorts of heeby geebies about my Catholic upbringing, and was originally a longer, more personal poem.

posted 10 January 2011


Story

My poem 'Story' gained second place in Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2010. Read it here.


Cold Salt Water

'Cold Salt Water' won first prize in the Save As Writers' Prose Competition 2009. Jeremy Page, editor of the Frogmore Papers, has kindly agreed to the story being published on this website in advance of its publication in Frogmore Papers 75, March 2010. So here it is, 'Cold Salt Water'.

posted 4 February 2010


A Sofa in the Eighties

Lynn Trebill has requested her favourite medwaymaria poem, 'A Sofa in the Eighties'. I wrote this whilst Lynn and I were doing the Certificate in Practical and Imaginative Writing at the University of Kent (2002 - 2004). Lynn went on to graduate with a 2:1 degree in English. Well done, Lynn, and thanks for remembering this poem. It was written in response to Seamus Heaney's 'A Sofa in the Forties'. The phrase 'death gondola' is a direct quote from Heaney's poem. My family will recognise the green striped sofa that travelled round the south of England. Hope you enjoy it.

Maria


Best Words, Best Order: poems by members of the poetry class held in Teynham, Autumn 2009

The Bargeman

Bronze statue on Sittingbourne High Street

They gave me a wheel but no barge to steer.
These days I watch the shoppers –
mothers like mallards with ducklings in tow,
that woman a heron flying from the bank
in her soft grey suit.

I miss the waddlers and waders,
a full tide, the wind in our sails
whipping us along the Swale
when I was in charge of men,
our craft, its cargo.

I miss those mornings of stillness
at low water, the sounds of trickling,
the sucking and bubbling of mudflats
pulsing with worms.

These days I wait for rain,
the spray in my face as I stand here,
my sails furled.

Gillian Moyes


Beware the word thief in the dead of night

Beware the word thief in the dead of night,
she steals from the sleeping tongues of poets.
She’ll snatch words of yours that are too precise,

and build a bonfire for her own delight,
from the verbs you were saving for sonnets.
Beware the word thief in the dead of night.

She’ll leave behind adverbs that are just not right:
slope off with your powerful nuggets.
She’ll snatch words of yours that are too precise.

She’ll stamp on your nouns in the moonlight,
hide your rhymes up under her bonnet.
Beware the word thief in the dead of night.

You can fight poetic inversion all night,
she’ll laugh at your vigorous efforts
and snatch your words that are too precise.

So sleep tight-lipped beneath your skylight.
Check under your pillow and blankets.
Beware the word thief in the dead of night.
She’ll snatch words of yours that are too precise.

Alison McNaught


Dusk

The autumn sky is cobalt blue,
shrouded with the black lace
of tree and branch silhouettes,
peppered with remaining leaves.
I’m in one window, flooded with light,
staring out into the darkening garden.
Opposite, mum’s in her studio retreat at the top.
Her silver hair lit up like an arctic fox.
She dabs and stipples a purple painting then
stands back and seeks clarity with a squint,
her tongue tip out in concentration.
Pen to paper, unconsciously I mirror her movements.

Kate Fox


Strange Fruits

Blackberries shrivel on Cellar Hill
though a few late blooms defy the new order:
bletted plums usurped by ripening pears.

A kestrel hovers over the orchard,
the gate staked by an estate agent’s board.
Cobnuts lie scattered like popcorn on the turning

to Lynsted Lane, by the houses that first broke
through the earth in the spring, now de-scaffolded,
exhaling steam through plastic heating vents.

And strange fruits hang in the hedgerow,
Stella cans, a Co-operative bakery wrapper
with orange sticker, reduced to 40p.

Maria McCarthy


Three poems from 'strange fruits' by Maria C. McCarthy

Coats

There are seashells in this pocket,
trickling down collected silver
from thirds of pints of morning milk;
and in the other, a lone pineapple
chunk, stuck to the bottom, and sugar
to chase with a licked finger.

Now the gabardine becomes a duffle
stuffed with bus tickets, where the numbers
add to twenty-one, folded into stars;
now a denim bomber with numbers scrawled
on torn-off paper, and balled-up tissues;
now an over-sized overcoat wrapped
around mother and unborn child,
now around mother and baby.

Now she has her own coat.

After the Fire at Matalan

Men in uniform lift and lower the tape
for other men in uniform
as the crane rises and circles.
Neighbouring stores close, choked by the acrid plumes,
bank holiday shoppers deprived of DIY and carpets.

And those of us housebound by the flames
walk by late afternoon to view the carcass
of this giant industrial bird, its curved bones
bared like a half-carved turkey,
and inhale charred remains that float,
then settle on the concrete of the retail park,
ochre insulation like discarded nesting.

Close to Christmas,
graffiti-ed hoardings disguise the deconstruction,
apologise for the inconvenience, while skip lorries
rattle the ashes of the pyre through the town.
Viewed through the square link fence,
an open space, a pile of rubble.

And still stray slices of the old bird’s nest
skim the car park, perch on the branches of the winter trees.

July 1969

One small school is gathered for assembly
in the sun-freckled shade of the chestnut tree.
Sister Bernadette, haloed by the sun
like a statue of the Virgin, says Class One,
just like the men who have walked on the moon,
will take their own small steps soon.
They will not return to skewer conkers
from St Joseph’s tree, but, come September,
step up to St Andrew’s or the grammar.
Except Michael Sullivan who will never
grow into his too-big blazer, unworn
in an unopened wardrobe. Picture his step
from behind the ice-cream van, like the boy
in the road safety poster: frozen, poised.

John Whitworth, judge of Split the Lark Poetry competition 2007, said:

     ‘July 1969 is a beautiful and touching little word machine.’

The poem was highly commended in this competition and shortlisted for the Frogmore Poetry Prize 2005. It has also been published in ‘Fourteen’, the magazine of the sonnet.



Love

When I came home that evening there was a man sitting on my garden wall, drinking tea from a mug and eating a thick-cut sandwich. His hair was long and matted, and those parts of his flesh that I could see were muddy brown, either through exposure to the elements or a lack of soap and water. He rose a few inches as I walked up the steps to the door, each of us glancing sideways, neither of us looking at each other, then he sat back down to finish his meal. Later, there was the drained mug, the tooth-marked remains of a ham sandwich and a brown stain on the path, which I had no interest in identifying.

The post that morning had brought cards from foreign places. I should have felt pleased for them, those friends who could afford holidays, and glad that they’d remembered me. Instead I buried the cards beneath leftover Weetabix and coffee dregs in the kitchen bin. Postcards to an alien, viewing a life where I no longer belonged – no money and no one to go on holiday with.

There was a folk festival in town, and I decided to go along. The town was full of aliens, so I felt right at home. The day was billed as Ruby Tuesday, and everyone was supposed to wear something red. I found an old red T-shirt and blended in with the other aliens with red streaks in their beards and painted eyebrows. After I’d had my fill of folk music and morris dancing, I came home to this tramp – if we’re allowed to call them that these days. Gentleman of the road, homeless person, whatever he was, I hadn’t seen him around before. You notice them, people from other alien races, when you’re an alien yourself, but they’re invisible to most people –until they sit on your garden wall.

It’s a balancing act between safety and charity. Who knows, Mr Tramp might be a violent sort. But the words of that bible passage filtered through, the one about faith, hope, and the greatest of these is love: not charity, love. Someone had shown this man love and directed him to my garden wall café for his snack. I suspected my neighbour Teresa, a practising Catholic. For me, being a Catholic was like my efforts to learn the violin. I gave up both in my teens. It wasn’t as though you worked hard and arrived at perfection. You had to keep practising – not worth the sacrifice for the returns.

When I went through my charitable phase, my love phase, I volunteered at the Simon Community, a home for the homeless. Some of the men travelled around the country, signing on at different towns, and came to Kent for the summer. It was like a holiday for them. There isn’t much begging now, what with the Big Issue, but in those days they’d stretch out their hands for the price of a cup of a tea. Never went on tea, of course, straight to the off-licence for a can of Special Brew.

I wondered where Mr Tramp thought of as home. I couldn’t ask him; my days of ‘love’ were over. I didn’t know where I belonged anymore than he did. Not in the house where I was raised: I’d said goodbye to that many years ago. Mum was still there, of course, but it had been months since we’d spoken, not since Dad’s funeral when I said I wouldn’t go. There were tears from her, and just three words, ‘How could you?’ That’s what I thought too, how could you put up with that for all those years? Self-love, or a lack of it, that’s what it came down to.

I remembered the parties, when he brought people back from the pub. He would turn up the Dansette, and get Mum to make sandwiches for his cronies. I lay in bed praying for the house to stop whooping and the floorboards to stop shaking. There was always the Dubliners, ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ and ‘the Black Velvet Band’, then the songs about leaving Ireland or going back to that ‘Old Irish home, far across the foam’. If Ireland was that great, why didn’t they go back and live there?

When you’re English, but your family’s Irish, you never know where you belong, where home is. England was where we lived, but Ireland was home, even though us kids had only ever been there on holiday. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt like an alien.

***

You know how once you’ve noticed someone you see them all the time? Well, Mr Tramp turned up again, sunbathing on the grass verge near Matalan, his carrier bag beneath his head, a can of White Lightning clutched in his fist. I wonder if my dad would have ended up like that if it weren’t for Mum. The word ‘alcoholic’ was never used: not for Dad, not for Kieran my brother. They were just men who liked a drink, good company down the pub, same as the uncles who came over from Ireland to live with us for a while until they got settled. They’d come over happy and full of life, greeting people they met on the street like they would at home. No one replied. Mum told them don’t go round saying hello to everyone; they don’t do it over here. After a while they didn’t smile so much, and the drinking started.

Only once did Mum come close to using the word ‘alcoholic’. ‘It’s like a disease, you know’, she said. She’d got friendly with one of the nuns at the Sacred Heart Convent, where my sister was at school. This nun, Sister Anne, told Mum about Al Anon, a support group for the families of alcoholics. The group met every Friday night in the school hall. Mum wouldn’t go in case the neighbours found out.

***

I never had the urge to travel the way that teenagers do, the way that homeless people do. The summer after A-Levels, I got as far as Cornwall working in a shop that sold seashells and tacky gifts. Thought I’d visit the English holiday world. I’d only ever been ‘home’ for the holidays, to Ireland, plus day trips to the coast, crammed in the back of Uncle Bill’s van with my cousins.

Maybe I’d become a traveller now. I’d heard about the adult gappers, people who sell everything and go round the world. Nothing to keep me here with the kids gone, and me single again. I did some research on the Internet, bought some guidebooks. I fancied New Zealand. It looked good in the Lord of the Rings films. I even had the house valued.

Mr Tramp was gone by the end of the summer, holiday over, back to the grindstone of doing whatever tramps do. My brief flirtation with wanderlust was over, too. I took a bus into town to pick up the Adult Education brochure. It’s what I call my seasonal adjustment, looking for something to do as the nights draw in. There was a Big Issue seller by the bus station. He was wearing a thin jacket, holes in his shoes. It was drizzling and cold. He had his dog with him, tied to the railings, a blanket thrown over it, a plastic tub of water by its head. A woman in an expensive-looking coat was shouting at him, ‘Are you going to keep that dog out all day? And does it have somewhere to sleep at night? I hope you’re feeding it properly.’ It was the week that a whale had got stranded on the banks of the Thames and pages of newsprint were devoted to the tragedy. Meanwhile a new drug for Alzheimer’s had been declared too costly to be dispensed to those that needed it. It struck me that that there wasn’t much love in the world.

I barged in front of the screeching woman. ‘How much for all your copies?’ He quoted a sum. I searched my pockets, gathered up all my notes and change and stuffed them into the young man’s hand. ‘Get yourself home,’ I said.

'Love' is from "As long as it takes" a short story collection. It was part of a dissertation submitted for an MA in Creative Writing. The examiner, Stewart Brown, said:

     ‘The stories are sophisticated, the characters well drawn and the world they occupy made vivid for the reader…I can well imagine that these stories might form the basis of a published collection.’


Read another story from 'As long as it takes' here. 'A Tea Party' was previously published on the Tales of the Decongested website, and read at an event at Foyles bookshop, London, in 2008

Hear Maria as a columnist on Radio 4's Home Truths

Read more poems and prose by Maria on the Medway Libraries website